photograph by Rob van Petten, ECM Records GmbH, 1981
Back around 1980 or so, there was a tiny little club in Buffalo, NY, called the Tralfamadore Cafe, in homage the writer Kurt Vonnegut. Although the club has since relocated to spacious quarters in the downtown area of the City, the old club had a marvelous charm. You'd enter down a long, creaking staircase into what was essentially an open basement. I'll bet the place couldn't legally hold more than 90 people.
It was a precious and intimate space to see music, and they booked the best around. Spyrogyra was virtually the house band. In that tiny club, I saw Dexter Gordon, Richie Havens, Nina Simone, Carmen McRae, Gap Mangione, Gerry Niewood, and Pat Metheny. To make the gig work, the artists would do 2-4 nights of shows; they all loved the setting, and it enabled them to settle in and catch their breath for a little while when they were on tour.
I did an interview with Pat Metheny at the time that I should dig up and reprint here sometime.
He said something at the time that completely blew me away, and gave me tremendous insight into the mind of an artist. Metheny had just been selected World's Best Guitarist by Guitar player magazine for the third consecutive year, or something like that. He was 27 years old at the time, we were about the same age.
I asked him how it felt to receive all of this adulation at such a young age, did it affect his career-decisions, or his approach to gigging. All four nights at the Tralf were sellouts.
"That's an interesting question, and I'll tell you why," he said.
"I don't get much of a chance to practice anymore. We do about 300 gigs a year, and the average gig is three hours, not that I'm making any excuses for not practicing."
"And just the other night, the band and I hit a groove, and I realized that if I work really, really hard at this, I could get good at it, get to where I want to be."
Midwesterners, unless they are politicians, have a very hard time lying. What he was saying was that in his mind, the absolute truth. Here is a guy his peers consider to be at the peak of the scene, and in his own mind, he's just beginning to formulate a vision of what it might be possible for him to do, and how hard it will be to do it, and how important it is to do it. He was beyond humility, posturing. He'd tuned out all the laudatory static, and was fine-tuning his connection to his own muse.
Metheny's career speaks for itself. It is hard to come up with another artist as respectful of his musical elders, as inventive and fearless, and as damned good as Metheny.
And I'd bet that if I spoke with him today, he'd still say he has a long way to go.